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Coronavirus in Egypt: Betting on awareness?

The advent of winter and laxity in adhering to precautionary measures are believed to be behind the hike in daily coronavirus infections

Ahmed Morsy , Sunday 13 Dec 2020
Betting on awareness?
People wearing protective face masks stand inside Cairo's underground metro, November 21, 2020 (Photo: Reuters)
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For the first time in almost five months, starting 2 December, Egypt’s daily coronavirus cases reached over 400. On Monday, Egypt’s Health Ministry reported 415 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total infection tally to 118,847 — including 103,703 recoveries — since the outbreak began in February.

Health Minister Hala Zayed stated earlier this week that the rate of Covid-19 infections “is taking an upward trend,” pointing out that Cairo, Giza and Alexandria governorates have been recording the highest infection rates nationwide.

With the coronavirus accelerating worldwide, passing 67 million infections and 1.5 million deaths this week, according to a Johns Hopkins University case tracker, several countries have once again started imposing lockdowns.

Egypt’s Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said late last month that the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic “is more widespread and dangerous than the first”, reaffirming the necessity for citizens to adhere to precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus, and stressing the need for all concerned bodies to strictly apply protective measures in workplaces and production sites.

The prime minister also granted public entities the freedom to determine the number of employees needed to be physically available at offices to avoid crowding but in a way that does not affect services provided to citizens.

In order to reduce crowding amid the ongoing hike of infections, new opening and closing hours for shops, cafés and other commercial venues came into force starting 1 December. Cairo’s commercial shops and centres will be allowed, according to the recently issued decision, to operate during weekdays from 7am to 11pm in summer and from 7am to 10pm in winter, while bazaars and restaurants will be open from 5am to 1am in summer and from 5am to midnight in winter.

On weekends (Thursday and Friday), commercial shops and centres will be allowed to open at 7am to 12am in the summer and 7am to 11pm in the winter, while restaurants, cafés, and bazaars will be allowed to operate from 5am to 1am, regardless the season.

Earlier in November, Madbouli reiterated that the country “will exercise zero tolerance” against people or facilities that fail to adhere to preventive measures against the pandemic in light of the public’s noticeable non-compliance with preventative measures.

On the current increased rate of infections, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said on 24 November that the awareness of citizens was the “true vaccine”.

“We had to shut down schools, universities, shops and restaurants and impose a partial curfew. We do not want to repeat the lockdown implemented during the first wave of the coronavirus,” Al-Sisi said, emphasising that a lockdown will not be implemented again as long as the public adheres to safety measures.

However, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church said on Saturday that it will suspend mass and other services, including Sunday school, meetings, services and mass in Cairo and Alexandria starting Monday 7 December for one month due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases detected among clergymen and churchgoers.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Catholic Church announced on Monday that it had decided to reduce the number of participants in mass and other religious events, and to not exceed a maximum of 40 per cent of the church’s capacity as part of its efforts to counter the surge of coronavirus cases in the country.  

Hossam Hosni, head of the Health Ministry’s Scientific Committee to Combat Coronavirus, echoed Al-Sisi’s approach. “The effective vaccine that currently exists is to maintain preventive measures,” Hosni said. “You are the lifeline until an effective vaccine is produced,” Hosni added, addressing the public.

On the link between winter and the number of virus infections, Zayed said that low temperatures do not directly affect the rate of infections but rather lead to the gathering of people in closed places, which results in a significant increase in cases.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ensuring proper ventilation with outside air can help reduce indoor airborne contaminants, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and other viruses.

“However, by itself, increasing ventilation is not enough to protect people from exposure to the virus that causes Covid-19. When used along with other best practices — such as wearing face masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing, and surface disinfection — recommended by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, increasing ventilation can be part of a plan to protect yourself and your family,” the EPA said.

Hosni said that with the advent of winter an increase in infections is expected because it is a season in which all viruses are active, not just coronavirus, stressing that the increase in the number of virus infections is linked to community awareness, adding that abandoning preventive and precautionary measures doubles infections and deaths.

On Monday, the total number of deaths in Egypt reached 6,790 out of 103,703 infections since the emergence of the pandemic. Zayed stated that the coronavirus death rate in Egypt among males is higher than in females, signalling a ratio of 2:1 which she said, is in line with global rates.

Late last month, Al-Sisi said that while the pandemic has had a severe impact on the world economy, “it did not impact Egypt as much due to the economic reform programme and how you, the citizens, have handled it.”

The president added that many countries appreciate and are studying the Egyptian experience in managing the crisis.

According to the Covid-19 Resilience Ranking Report issued by Bloomberg in November, Egypt was one of the most resilient countries in dealing with the pandemic, ranked the 25th globally among 53 participant countries, and the second among Arab countries. It came among the top five countries expected to achieve high growth rate for 2020 compared to the economies covered by the classification.

The Bloomberg report also stated that Egypt was one of the highest ranking countries in signing vaccine supply agreements.

Cabinet Spokesman Nader Saad said on TV on 2 December that Egypt is expected to receive doses of one of the coronavirus vaccines in May 2021 via the Global Vaccine Alliance and Immunisations.

The health minister earlier stated that Egypt has reserved doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by the US Pfizer pharmaceutical corporation, which would cover up to 20 per cent of the country’s needs. Zayed emphasised that Egypt has also secured doses of a promising British vaccine developed by Oxford University that will meet around 30 per cent of the country’s needs.

In September, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund agreed to supply 25 million doses of its potential Covid-19 vaccine to Egypt via Pharco, one of Russia’s leading pharmaceutical groups.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

 

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